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Buntings feel son's presence

Larry Bunting Sr.’s car quit running on the way to work one day last week. That’s how he knows his son is still with him.

“He’s still around,” said the Air Force lieutenant colonel, laughing. “He’s up to no good.”

Larry Eugene Bunting Jr., 17, was something of a practical joker. He used to put on an old Halloween mask and jump out of closets at his family members.

But for his pranking — which he just did for fun, not malice — Larry Jr., called Eugene by his family and friends, had a kind heart devoted to his faith in God and service to his community.

Eugene drowned in the Green River April 29 on a video shoot with three other students from Fife High School. They were planning to capture video footage of fun stuff they did as seniors to show during graduation.

He was swept away about 6:30 p.m., but his mom, Wilma, said she didn’t know anything was wrong until 9 p.m., when a King County Sheriff officer pulled up into her driveway. Her husband was in Oklahoma on Air Force training.

She said she had tried to call Eugene’s cell phone, but she couldn’t reach him. When the deputy appeared in the driveway, she said she thought Eugene had been in a car crash.

Eugene had been swimming before in natural environments, but he wasn’t prepared for the Green River. “I know my son could swim, but never in that situation,” she said.

Bunting Sr. flew back from Oklahoma the next morning and visited the Green River Gorge area where Eugene was swept away.

After talking with Search and Rescue workers about the water temperature and speed of the river, he said, he understood there was little chance his son would be found alive. The family was relieved when a rafter found Eugene’s body May 3.

Wilma said Eugene became excited about God when he “was a little guy,” when the family lived in Germany after his younger sister Jocelyn, now 15, was born.

“That boy loved to go to children’s church,” she said. “He always has, wherever we’ve lived.”

He accepted Christ when he was 11 years old and rededicated his life at 13. He carried a Bible with him all the time and knew it front to back, Wilma said.

When the family moved to Federal Way Eugene’s junior year of high school, he became active in the evening youth group at Brooklake Community Church.

His family attends services at the Puget Sound Christian Fellowship on Sunday mornings, but Eugene couldn’t go because he had to work. He was a courtesy clerk at Safeway.

As the leader of HOPE, a Christian group at Fife High School, Eugene helped bring in many other kids.

He was a councilor for two years at a youth camp in Oklahoma, where his family lived prior to moving to Washington. Once here, he volunteered in Milton at Where It’s At, a twice-monthly youth activity night for sixth- through eighth-graders.

Kids loved Eugene, his parents said.

“Kids were like static cling,” Larry Jr.’s dad said.

“He was a big kid. He loved to play with kids,” Wilma added.

Eugene also enjoyed school — “he liked it as a wonderful thing to do,” his mom said — even though he was ready for graduation.

Fife High awarded Eugene’s diploma at a memorial service May 3.

Eugene’s younger brother, Sam, 15, played “Amazing Grace” on the trumpet at the memorial. “He didn’t miss a note,” Larry Sr. said.

Among his other school activities, Eugene played the saxophone and ran track.

Eugene signed up for the Air Force’s delayed enlistment program and planned to be an avionics technician on the B-2 bomber. The Air Force presented the U.S. flag to Eugene’s parents at his memorial services.

Initially, Eugene’s parents were surprised that he decided to pursue the Air Force as a career.

But he wanted to be an officer and serve his country, particularly following the terrorist attacks Sept. 11.

“He was not happy about that,” Wilma said. “He doesn’t like people picking on the U.S.”

He played video games, even though his parents didn’t allow them in their home after noticing a pronounced aggression in their son after playing them at a friend’s house.

Still, he loved playing “anything that beeps or squeaks,” Wilma said.

Eugene was good with the technical elements of computers and was part of a group at school that helps teachers with their computer systems.“He liked gadgety stuff,” Larry Sr. said.

Since the teen’s death, his family has left his room alone.

His collection of Transformers are still posed on a table. His CDs are lined up in a book case and posters hang over his bed.

The Buntings are being restationed back to Oklahoma in July. Wilma said leaving will be hard.

“I came here with three kids and I expected to be leaving with three kids,” she said. “I knew he was going into the Air Force and he’d be far away, but not this far away.”

Staff writer Erica Jahn can be reached at 925-5565 and ejahn@fedwaymirror.com

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